Awkward encounters, curious chemistry
- Mirava M. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In a surprising move, one of the country’s most famous production companies decided to shake up its traditional repertoire of musicals, and put on a play instead. Atlantis Productions is currently presenting God of Carnage. And like most other theater enthusiasts, I was curious as to why the company chose to veer away (at least temporarily) from the colorful fare it has presented with savoir-faire over the years.

Despite the play’s renown as a Tony winner, it is not a production that has been acknowledged as figuring in the limelight, especially among the Broadway community. However, it was adapted into a film sometime last year, titled Carnage and starring Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz.

Speaking of star power, Atlantis’ cast alone was enough of an attraction. After all, there wasn’t much else to go on, what with the blank poster being passed around that featured nothing but four individuals looking utterly morose.

At least two of those faces rendered me shamelessly desperate to see the play (even though I prefer musicals). And those two faces happened to belong to Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (whose performance in Next to Normal was a big reason for that musical to become one of my favorites) and Lea Salonga (who made my then-five-year-old heart wobble from Miss Saigon decades ago — and still does). The deadly combo made it a must-see for me, and I entered the theater thinking I could watch the two do a scene together for hours.

It turned out to be exactly what I got, and more, because in essence, God of Carnage directed by Bobby Garcia, is filled to the brim with talking. In fact, its entire premise revolves around the meandering conversations of two sets of parents, who stage a meeting as the result of an altercation between their sons.

One would think that such a scenario would turn out as boring onstage as it might be in real life. After all, how many tedious discussions has the average person been subjected to, as an unfortunate witness to racket-y business meetings, lovers’ quarrels, or domestic disputes? But God of Carnage somehow manages to fit every brand of uncomfortable encounter into a curiously awkward yet uproariously captivating play.

Meet the parents who make it all happen: all four of them are popular archetypes, beginning with the Raleighs, which consist of Alan (Art Acuña), the funny family man, and his wife Veronica (Lea Salonga), an artsy, self-appointed social justice crusader. The more serious and sophisticated Novacks are the haughtily dismissive lawyer Michael (Adrian Pang) and the refined Anette (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo).

The tension is already palpable from the moment all four sit down in the Raleighs’ living room. Any sensible conversationalist knows that there is no use arguing about parenting styles. But the two couples do it anyway, and soon enough, a brief argument over whose child’s fault it was mutates into a hydra of arguments and circular reasoning.

Hilariously, the whole package is equal parts zany and believable — and that is why one can’t help but feel voyeuristic while watching the individual psyches of characters unravel... Before clamping up again and exposing them as more superficial than before.

Both sets of parents could easily come across as detestable, if not for the comedy stylings and easy chemistry among all four actors. And yes, Salonga and Lauchengco-Yulo did have their epic showdown, amidst the constant side-switching at the drop of a hat. Pang and Acuña were impeccable anti-theses of each other, while making their occasionally friendly moments seem natural.

Considering the escalating stunts, the cast ought to be lauded for their seamless transitions from witty banter to borderline existentialist discussions (interestingly enough, the play was originally in French) to all-out physical comedy. Everyone tiptoes along the fine line between hysteria towards their spouses and ennui over their own lives — while struggling to maintain social graces and remaining “part of the system.”

The whole thing is one slap away from soap opera, and yet, simultaneously, two Aesops away from turning into The Breakfast Club. There are profound moments, but not necessarily ones that need to be looked for, since a 90-minute romp through the farce that is domesticity is already more than entertaining. Living up to the inclusion of “carnage” in the title is a production that will make you at least wonder about the boundaries between dysfunctional and just plain disturbed.

* * *

God of Carnage, directed by Bobby Garcia and presented by Atlantis Productions, ran for two weekends at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, and will head to Singapore. For tickets, contact 892-7078, 840-1187 or 891-9999, or visit

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